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A loved one is incapacitated. Will you be allowed to help?

An interesting question came up recently: What would persuade young millennials to begin discussions with their families about long-term care planning. Young people often still have their parents and their grandparents living, which sets up the expectation that older generations are in charge of these plans. So, if millennials don't have children of their own, estate planning and elder law don't come up all that often.

Until they do, of course. In a recent post to LifeHealthPro, a life and health insurance industry site, one woman of the millennial generation described what happened when her grandmother was hospitalized. 

The grandmother, 93, was hit with a sudden bout of pneumonia and hospitalized for nine days until her blood-work was normal. She was still too weak to sit up, on oxygen full time, and getting respiratory therapy treatments every six hours before her release.

The cardiologist who released her didn't give the family any instructions; just a list of medications she needed. Although she needed 24-hour-a-day care, he didn't check if the family had the skills to provide that care. (No one in the family even had CPR training.) He didn't order a home-health nurse or any home care equipment, such as an adjustable bed.

The most frustrating part for the granddaughter, however, was that her father still refused to discuss long-term care planning -- for Grandma or himself -- even after this experience. Although it's clear no one in the family is equipped to provide medical treatment at home, he won't even consider a nursing home.

If they had that discussion, they would at least have in place things such as:

  • A list of practical steps to take
  • A list of family members, friends and support services to call
  • Information about children or pets needing care
  • The name of a trusted person or service to act as a "health coach"
  • The location of Grandma's insurance and Medicare documents, along with pertinent estate planning documents such as:
    • Medical power of attorney
    • Directive to physicians
    • Pre-need designation of a guardian
    • Financial power of attorney
    • HIPAA authorization

This young woman's family may be relying on the idea that "everything will work out," but the HIPAA authorization brings up one example of a situation in which it might not. If an adult becomes incapacitated, doctors and hospitals may require a HIPAA authorization before they'll give out any patient information -- even to family members.

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